Home page • Table of Contents • Send your writings and e-mail to: Editors@tanbou.com



Poetry in English

Poems by Aldo Tambellini

Askia Touré, Tontongi, Neil Callender, Aldo Tambellini, and (seated) Gary Hicks at an art gallery in Cambridge, MA, in 2009.

From the front left, Askia Touré, Tontongi, Neil Callender, Aldo Tambellini, and (seated) Gary Hicks at an art gallery in Cambridge, MA, in 2009.

Make the poem

STRIP THE POEM
to the bare essentials
throw it into the garbage
flush it into the toilet
then go find it in the sewers
as a piece of life rejected
unwanted as a new born cry
that sits on excrement
eaten by swarming flies

MAKE THE POEM
the forgotten
the throw away society
the unnecessary surplus
the exploited no longer of use

MAKE THE POEM
those who appear
dying split second on the screen
before you flip the dial
before the stench of death reaches the nostrils
before you might discover what life for some
for too many is all about

MAKE THE POEM
before sinking the teeth
in that blood stained hamburger
that could be ground meat from starving corpses
before you can say this is the taste of death
& spit it out

MAKE THE POEM
cruel as the messages from well fed politicians
MAKE THE POEM
tearing limbs to shreds
in the name of democracy
to protect ruling delinquent interests
to increase wealth of the few
to increase stupidity of others
who wrap yellow ribbons on trees
glorifying fighting heroes on tv news
conquering dismembered women & children

MAKE THE POEM
mercilessly brutal
as the dictators we prop on fake stages
ordering executions of innocent people
as firing squads hunt freedom guerrillas
as raining bombs drop over defenseless
populations

Aldo Tambellini at the Pompidou Center in Paris, January 6th 2012.

Aldo Tambellini at the Pompidou Center in Paris, January 6th 2012. —image by photographer in Paris David Henry

MAKE THE POEM
your assassinated forgotten lover
MAKE THE POEM
the junkies’ perforated bodies
MAKE THE POEM
AIDS’ skeleton’s remains

MAKE THE POEM
without sentimentality
as you turn a calendar page
to a new day that never will come
MAKE THE POEM
without saying I I I in every line
as if you were the only one that mattered
in this shrunken planet
MAKE THE POEM
looking at earth from a star
as the famished nursing bitch howls back at the moon

MAKE THE POEM
discord in bitter notes
puncturing deaf eardrums with pain
MAKE THE POEM
cut decisively
the way the butcher slices meat
razor sharp with sound of falling flesh
MAKE THE POEM
ripe with bile
for the skin you hate then swallow its venom
MAKE THE POEM
on the airwaves viciously racist
mixed with intellectual educated innuendos
then contemplate that one day a bullet
might split your skull wide open in retaliation
MAKE THE POEM
when you take a shit reading the daily paper

MAKE THE POEM
suffering without pity
in the continuous living hell with no ending
then again you could make the poem
that says spring is like a perhaps
& if you wish upon a star
it makes no difference who you are
if you are rich & have power & control
in the destiny of
“Oh say can you see”
America
it’s a war poem
to the wretched of this land
to the poor to defenseless oppressed
your poem is a contract on the life of the people
AMERICA
MAKE THE POEM
& FUCK IT

—Aldo Tambellini

Get the poor off the street

March 21, 1995

get the poor off the street
& ship them to nowhere oblivion
get the objectionable unsavory sight far away
dispersing with endangered species
& then forget they ever existed
there is no place for poverty
in cosmetic democracy

get the poor off the street
& let neglect & time
consume their remaining days
evaporating their existence into air

get the rich to wall street
to invest in 3rd world country cheap labor
then build cultural monuments
with deductible tax dollars
with the artists glorifying their wealth

make the rich super-rich
to be mentors & models
of successful democracy in action
for the world to emulate

but for God’s sake
get the damn poor off the street
anywhere out of here
anywhere to disperse
out of sight

—Aldo Tambellini

Poems by Ella Turenne

Artwork by Ella Turenne

Artwork by Ella Turenne.

Middle Passage

In the horizon a dove soars
Scoping the open waters
Blessing the souls that lay below
They endured unspeakable hardships
These misplaced and misled people
Divine spirit captured them as they fell
Off rickety boats
While the rest of their fam
Survived and arrived
In Saint Domingue.
Bienvenue! This is the New World.

Wealthy, coveted, watched, exploited
Saint Domingue.
Tragic cycle
Work, die, import
Import, work, die
Die, import, work.
The misery of slavery
Birthed through the middle passage.

Gone are the times we sail for fun
Along our ageless shores
With their golden sugar waves
These vessels carry us to distant coasts now
Far from the life we know
Far from our ancestor watch
Their arms reach out over miles
But sometimes are not long enough
To catch the ones who fall
All we have now is what is in our hands
Precious cargo of life and
Scribbles on paper
Tickets to a freedom
We thought we once had
Now lost
We are seeking elsewhere.

We don’t travel over rainbows
But there is a pot of gold at the end of this journey
If we can hold on long enough.

We had no choice about where we were born
The waters that surrounded the land where we lived
Should be red with the life fluid of our ancestors
The water that was supposed to protect our people
Nourish them
Cleanse them
Turned out to be the enemy
Preventing them from reaching
Shores where liberty reigns and
A dream can become reality
So what we came over in boats?
Who bought us here in the first place?
My people were never water people
On mountainous terrain
In the middle of the ocean
They were never equipped to survive in rapids and waves
But they made it across the same waters
Their ancestors were forced to weather
Clutching the edge of a wooden piece of hope,
They looked out into the hungry mouth of the ocean
And peered straight into the souleyesspirit of
The Lwa
Long ago engulfed by these unforgiving waters
Those same Spirits cannot be forgotten and
Their energy cannot be broken and
The womb that is the middle passage
Still has not healed
Still moans with the voices
Of thousands of vocal chords
United in cries for freedom
An energy that looms over
Even the calmest of waters
That energy rages under my skin
Keeping me connected
Reminding me that there was a before me
And that there is a with me
Even thousands of miles away.

Stand

We stand

We stand on the mountaintops we are named for
Ayiti
La perle des Antilles, the richest in history and culture

We stand

We stand on the shoulders of our founding fathers
Toussaint
Dessalines
Pétion
Christophe

And our founding mothers
Défilée
Catherine
Marie Jeanne
Suzanne
Cécile
Marie Claire

We stand

We stand on the Citadel
The 8th wonder of the world
Soaring over the Caribbean horizon
Protecting our motherland
From those who would threaten our freedom

We stand

We stand on koupe tèt boule kay
A cry
A call
A strategy
To fiercely guard our sovereignty
A philosophy
A brand
A maverick sensibility
A grassroots movement
Meant to create ashes for the enemy
Then rebuild like a phoenix

We stand

We stand
On this history that made us infamous
The audacity to be free
That France cannot let go
That America cannot let go
That Europe cannot let go
That gripped fear into capitalism and colonialism
In ways the White man just could not explain
It travelled throughout the Caribbean
And Latin America
And Africa
Leading to
Revolutions
Revolts
Renegade rebel rousers
Shouting, crying, singing, screaming in the name of freedom

We stand

We stand because the will of the Haitian people will be heard
By ballot or burning tires
Or marches or carnival fires
From the deep crevices of Cite Soleil
To the flowing rivers in Limbe
From the bustling streets of NYC
To the glittering lights in old Paris
The people speak
the ancestors hear
Èzili and Legba always close
Whispering back in our ear

We stand

We stand on our culture
Our music
The konpa, that racine, the zouk, the jazz
Paintings and steel sculptures and
Ocean and sand
Birthed from Gods
Our muze to create a feeling
A rhythm
A beautiful thing to share with the world

We stand

We stand because without Haiti
There would be no America as we know it
There would be no first black republic as we know it
There would be no griot
There would be no soup joumou
There would be Haitian Jazz
There would be no L’Union Fait La Force

L’union fait la force
L’union fait la force

So stand up
Stand up
Stand up

My people

Stand up!

Stand up together
For l’union
For la force
For all the babies who didn’t survive
For all the fathers who gave their lives
For all the mothers who still gave birth
Because they knew what it was worth
To create Haitian kings and queens
Its who we be
It’s our legacy
So, stand up and be proud
Stand up
Stand up
And cheer
Let our feet dig deep roots back to the motherland
The place we all get our strength up
Stand up in honor of our great
Our beloved
Amity Cheri.

—Ella Turenne is a poet and an actor, has performed in array of films and theatrical works including her one-woman show Love, Locs & Liberation which won a Producers Encore Award at the 2018 Hollywood Fringe Festival. She has edited the trilingual book Revolution / Revolisyon / Revolution: 1804–2004, an Artistic Commemoration of the Haitian Revolution, and she is the founder of BlackWomyn Beautiful.

Poems by Tontongi

During the eight days that lasted the Israeli-Hamas conflict of May 2021, at least 254 Palestinians were killed, including dozens of children, and close to 2,000 have been wounded. The Palestinian Hamas government launched about 3,300 rockets over Israel, 13 people were killed in Israel by those rockets.

The following poem was originally published in 2014, after the destructive offensive on Gaza by Israel. I posted it on Facebook on May 14, 2018, after yet another massacre of Palestinians by Israel, and again in May 2021…

All consciences of the world should join together to demand an end to the injustice of the Israeli occupation, and more urgently, an end to the recurrent massacres of Palestinians by the powerful Israeli army. May all consciences of the world contribute toward the search for peace and equitable coexistence between the two peoples.

Demonstrators protesting the occupation and the Israeli bombing of Gaza in Copley Square, Boston, May 2021.

The terrorism of the mind

(Dedicated to Mahmoud Darwish, the great Palestinian poet)

Introduction: For nearly a month, from July 8 to August 5, 2014, Israel launched a continuous, systematic, ferocious attack on the Gaza Strip, killing 1,900 people, 80% of them civilians, including a large number of children. The number of wounded exceeds 9,000 according to the United Nations. The destruction caused by the offensive is hellish, the infrastructure of the city mostly devastated. Total suffering. The scale of the aggression indisputably qualifies it as a crime against humanity for which Israel must be prosecuted and punished. This poem is inspired by that tragedy.

It makes truth a sacred Un-said
and silence a virtue like civism and brunt
force, right hand of security imperatives
and other bullshities and vaudevilleries
that keep life from spreading.

It’s the rigidity of the Cosmos, they say,
the Bible announced it some time ago
so did the Torah, the missiles and the Iron Dome
which grabs the Hamas’ rockets from the sky
and everything. I’m choking! I’m choking!

With your Patriot Batteries deviators of terror
and your armored tanks] blowing death everywhere
with your great eloquent voices at Harvard
with your huge investments at Wall Street and London
with your alliance with the world’s Unique Superpower
who hovers over our heads like a furious eagle,
like an enveloping shadow, fluid, atmospheric;
with your great technological prowess
stunning like a thunderstorm’s carnival;
with your AIPAC’s sponsored symposiums *
and the luminaries who are welcoming you as Providence
while you are piecing Gaza like Swiss cheese
and the diversion of the water toward just your village
with your great accomplishments
and your golden medals, your architecture
of enclosure—the Panopticon
that closes on the Mediterranean Sea—,
with all the honors Destiny has blessed you,
still you’re killing innocent children
and driving many widows to poverty.

It makes of decency an unknown entity
and of conscience a no man’s land
it dictates the march of the process
of peace and war
and the Re-beginning
perfect like the recurrence of the seasons,
the hospitals, the maimed, the flattened villages
are something else. Your illusion.

It’s clamoring to your ears
terrorist alerts that keep you from sleeping
ISIS has vindicated them, they say,**
It’s the prophecy of a well-informed oracle.
We can even love each other, I know
but this is not a game, you know?
And even our pain and cries
our lavish blood flowing under the debris
the victorious wars you had launched
couldn’t stop your voracity for glory, they say,
still you are killing children
and sending your undesirable Others to agony.

You have the power to distort logics
and you use it with marvelous results,
even our tears, they say, are being served
to reach higher aim for your people while
you debased our people in suffering.
Just like storms and tornadoes
you destroy life at will and throw
half of the nation to the street, while
on the other side of the wall
you are lighting in splendor
your bombs raining like celebratory sparks
on Gaza dimming in the dark.

You have the God-blessed power
to keep the eye from seeing the horrors,
and the ear from hearing the wailings
and the mouth from speaking loudly,
still you are killing children
in broad daylight.

I am ashamed of my contemporaries,
coward zombies of farms,
and streetwise opportunists
alienated by the conditioning of a securized soul,
you let our daughters disappear, raped and sold
you pretend to have condemned Bush’s Iraq adventure
while you praise the Obama-Nantanayu-Gaza-pact.

You have made of evil a daily routine
that bothers no one certainly not the arms dealer
nor the corner McDonald, of course not.

It makes you a coward CNN reporter
a misleader from MSNBC who condemned Rula Jebreal
for having said loudly what everyone whispered; ***
it makes you a falsely objective State minion,
it returns you to the state of pure humanity
dirty fleshly cadaver living for the moment,
it returns you to the sanitary state that refuses
to be contaminated by knowledge.

With the ambient threat,
your job on the line
the chastisement of exclusion,
the contemplation of homelessness’ Gehenna,
the reflex self-regulates,
you have too much to lose now.

Ah! These non-Christian little kids,
may their death serve to defeat the local terrorist
the self-justification obeys the rule
evilness is the attribute of goodness
—and the debate is closed;
let’s talk about Ukraine
and the World Cup.
Let’s have some fun
and entertainment
in self-inflicted myopia.

All is well under the sun
until the next rendez-vous
with Gaza indignant about its baboukèt, ****
indignant about the Dominant Powers’ hypocrisy
and about the logics that accommodates horrors
committed by friends and allies victorious in the war
launched in a huge prison of suffering souls
that Anderson Cooper could virtuously ignore,
the outrage is selective, you know,
because it’s Gaza,
Gaza the rebel,
Gaza which refuses to die in silence.

—Tontongi July 23rd, 2014

* AIPAC: American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Pro-Israeli lobby.

** ISIS or ISIL: Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an extremist jihadist Sunnite group in Iraq.

*** CNN and MSNBC (respectively Cable News Network and Microsoft National Broadcasting Company, US cable televisions). MSNBC terminated their relation with Palestinian journalist Rula Jebreal because she criticized the pro-Israeli biases of the US media in a July 21st, 2014, live reporting. Nobody from the staff or the administration protested against this outrageous violation of journalistic freedom.

**** Baboukèt: Muzzle in Haitian.

The Panhandler

By the coffee shop entrance door
she stands animatedly panhandling,
gaze battered by the indignity
of such venture of last resort.

Unlike traditional practitioners
who use catchy phrases like
“Can you spare some change?”
this one, unperturbed, elaborates
a long, introductory prelude
mixing words like “hunger” and “need,”
to justify the request
and the urgency to give handsomely.

Some patrons hesitate, listen,
then move away with shameless candor;
some others just pass her by,
unmoved by the panhandler’s call.

From my standpoint of scrutiny
I feel she was wasting her time
and wish she would cut her losses
and her lengthy plea to the chase.

Then came a forty-something woman
to the shop, less concerned
by the challenge to her entrance;
upon listening to her long litany,
she offered to pay the panhandler’s lunch,
thus they entered the coffee shop,
friendly and happy
as if winners of a long battle.

Waiting in the cashier’s line
a friendly little girl
unbridled and unabashed
by the attention of grown-ups
asked the panhandler
as if the most natural thing to do
to give her the cookie she was about to buy.

Upon securing with her eyes
the child’s mother’s approval,
the panhandler gave her the cookie
with a smile,
and the smile was shared
by all the coffee shop attendees.

In this moment of apprehension,
the country’s past and present
coalesce in an ugly chemistry
of the meanest of measures
in an implacable agreement
between the elements of the power structure
to ignore the pain and suffering caused
to those born without a silver spoon,
the panhandler had saved the day.

Though victimized
by their machination
to making scarcity
the eleventh Commandment,
the panhandler became beauty
personified in the face of the ugliness
of things joined together
in a Cambridge’s busy street
—perhaps the remade land.

Like a Genet character
transformed, reinvented
from society’s most sullied
from society’s most rejected
to become the most sublime
of artists on the land,
the panhandler was elevated
in my book to divine status
and glory for having dismissed
the communication wall
erected to separate humans.

After the lunch
the panhandler retreated
with her dignity intact
to the anonymous nature
of her world and life:
“Free at last!” she now thought,
even in this unsettling time in the USA.

(May 2017)

—Tontongi

The Last Poem

Aldo Tambellini and Anna Salamone.

Aldo Tambellini and Anna Salamone.

(dedicated to Aldo Tambellini)

I shall write a poem that will tell it all,
sing the nightingale’s nightly song,
penetrate the labyrinth deep inside,
unveil its mystery’s inner soul.

I shall turn on the light
and open up the doors and the ceilings
to the immense oversight of infinitude;
I will tell Cedye’s story
his slow pace to the martyrdom’s state
where his spirits were lost to Aganman.
I will tell how Marie Lagone was defeated
and ceded to the worms never again
to regain her glory in our world.

My poem will revisit Ti-Gerard painting
the belly of the Beast with beautiful colors;
I shall make it a Pantheon from Hell,
the twist in the depth of quiet indifference
toward a destiny made to cry alone
yet screaming to help the baby from dying.

I will tell the travails of Magdalena, proud Amazon
losing her universe on a flip of a dice, here and there
there were losses because no one was there to help
reinvent our cosmos anew;
there was suffering all over.

When Hell governs the celestial values
our empty frailties are gone to the abyss;
I will tell what it was that went wrong,
reenact the primal nurturance of the land
before Good-Feet killed himself on a binge;
I shall tell what should never be told.

My poem will tell my story
both my glories and my pain;
I will tell my nocturnal wonderments
my lonely rêveries at the Saint Andre Park
behind the eerie colossal shadow
of the Reims Cathedral;
I will tell my love for Christina
the beauty once lived before Armageddon;
I shall tell of my youth consumed by my dreams.

My poem must reveal the horrifying
degeneration of life toward irrelevance;
I shall tell why all looks so normal
in so dimmed everyday life’s nightmare;
I will tell the loss by my country
of its nutrients, eroded from its roots;
I will sing and curse all the same
the serial death of my brothers and sisters
sacrificed to the altar of natural selection,
murdered by Haiti’s murderous poverty;
I shall tell the unfairness of their fate.

I shall write the ultimate poem
the silent cry of the Zebra’s complaints,
the trap of the vast multitude
within the infernal coercion of exploitation;
I will tell the alienation of the policeman
whose gun is a curse dreaded by his own conscience,
perishing in the Great Void of Contingency;
I will sing a song,
a simple melody for the no man’s land.

My poem will be made of tears
for those who have no more left to shed;
I will tell what happened to Michel
crossing his entire youth’s path from
running to running for his life
until he was found dead at midday
no one ever knew what his story was.

I shall tell of my purgatory
just like Mumia Abu Jamal told of his sojourn in hell;
I shall tell of the police brutality victims suddenly
transformed to Atilla the Hun to cover the mayhem.
I shall tell of the banning of poetry in state affairs;
I shall tell The Amadiou Diallo’s story
the Louima’s and Dorismond’s stories,
I will tell it all in one verse.

My poem must expurgate my manhood
unveil the animality of the best of my being,
reveal both the monster behind the friendly smile
and the humanity of my most evil deeds;
I shall undress the species to its pure nudity,
relegate our vanity to the dustbin of time;
I shall tell a new story.

I shall write a poem that will destroy it all
the beauty as well as the ugliness
the love as well as the hate;
my poem will start from the scratch
from the point where nothing is cursed or blessed
from the point of total innocence.

I shall write a poem that incites a global destruction,
a new Big Bang giving way to a new nothingness,
an original feast where all splendors are there,
there, at easy reach to the human frailties.
I shall write a poem anti-poem
a poem that will not be read to the king,
a poem for all that is not there and should be.

I will write a poem to cry,
cry the waste, the losses and the non-sense;
I will write a poem to tell you I was there
in blood and in flesh witnessing both the calvary
and the great potentials for a work of beauty;
I shall write a poem for happiness
the kind only kindred spirits have experienced;
I shall write a poem just to be.

I shall write a poem for only the pleasure
I extract from my state of total freedom,
for the ecstasy in conquering evanescence;
I will write a poem for the glory
from the smile of a beautiful child;
I will write a poem to celebrate the cerebral,
and yet subliminal cadence of the sexy gal
crossing the street with celestial wisdom
mixed with sweat, blood, contemplative sins.

I will sing the freshness of the dawn,
the sun’s majestic and ever peaceful sleep,
the pubertal elegance of the spring roses,
I will sing the beauty that is already there.

The poem I will write
will be hurting inside and boasting outside
just like my life has been;
it will radiate of the multiple splendors of the spleens,
turning the drought to a generous spring
and the desert of hell to a fertile Eden;
my poem will embrace the Grand Canyon,
recompense the artist’s inner pace,
and plant flowers along the lonely road.

I shall write a poem that will end it all,
all that contributes to the engine of hell;
I shall write a poem just to say nothing,
simply to be there.
I shall write a poem to destroy poetry
and put in its stead a big proclamation:

No more unnecessary death
No more anti-woman testosterone
No more Wall Street speculation
No more bosses that boss people around
No more bastards who hate life
No more rich people that live off poor people
No more whites that kill blacks
No more blacks that kill whites
No more schools that produce dummies
No more idiots with a license to be idiot
No more superwomen that become hyperbitch
No more misogynous heroes
paternalist monsters
libido destroyers
No more abusers of children
No more people who choose death over life
No more zombies aiding zombie-makers
No more innocent people in death row
No more refugees dead in high seas.

I will write a last poem
a poem of love
a poem for you to read
a poem that will tell who we are
I will write a poem
to incite multiple impulses
a Big Boom of creative happenings,
a renaissance since the primal vision.

(November 2000)

[I read this poem for the first time at an event that was held at the Carpenter Center, at Harvard University, on November 13, 2010, to celebrate Aldo Tambellini’s life and art.]

Poems by Michèle Voltaire Marcelin

Homeland

Art composition by Michele Voltaire Marcelin, New York, 2020.

Art composition by Michele Voltaire Marcelin, New York, 2020.

Here we were born
in this homeland turned prison
locked in locked out

Living in constant terror
under the imposition of silence

If ever we owned anything, it’s been ransacked
or scattered to the four winds

President, ministers and thugs in an unholy alliance
hands deep in blood
pockets lined with oil
have robbed us of flesh and possessions

We’ve lost our dreams and ambitions
O Martissant
O Bel Air
Who pays the bandits’ toll
Who carries our grief and our women’s dread
Who relocates our exiled
Who counts our dead

In this disenchanted city
surrounded by refuse and wreckage
broken shadows and random faces go blindly by
on Hands up Don’t shoot motorcycle rides

But traces of blood are forever on these panic-stricken streets

Chain-linked fences Barbed wire
keep us in keep us out

Noisy crowds Scorching asphalt
and the smell of burning tires

Flashes of light from assault rifles
Flights of bullets Exploding metal
We fled and could not carry those who fell
Their corpses were left as feast for dogs

This is not somewhere else but here
in all that darkness that
we’re seeking a glimmer of hope

(June 2021)

Ready for the Revolution!

(Until his dying day, Stokely Carmichael answered his telephone with the greeting: “Ready for the revolution!”)

Pour libations and light candles
for Stokely

who never left the struggle
whose voice set the world on fire

Stokely who was black magic
and Black Power

Freedom rider, SNCC and Black Panther
Risked his life daily
was chased, beaten, gassed, surveilled
jailed more than 30 times

left an inheritance
even though he died broke

Taught me American history
Said in 66 Racism must die

Organize
The secret of life is to wipe out the fear

Organize
Death walks hand in hand with struggle
said Stokely

and the past is never simple
But no major regrets

Unite my people
Organize!

(2020)

Grief works from home at all hours

(Struck by the Coronavirus pandemic, our world was forever changed.)
Sleepwalkers confined in a dream
Six feet apart like barbed wire
The days pass by without measure
Calendars have been quarantined

State your name and take a number
Stand in line for time regained
Only the mirror knows your face
The mask you wear beneath your mask

Don’t inhale the poisoned air
Pass each other in silence
The ground itself is a peril
Keep your shadow at a distance

Your chest filled with glass splinters
Beware, beware the crown of thorns
It lights a fire between your eyes
Delirium in Technicolor

Don’t break silence with trifling words
Thousands die behind closed doors
Disposed of in mobile morgues
In standard issue body bags

They dig mass graves on Hart Island
In parks where children ran and played
Pine trees on which we carved our hearts
Are now boxes that hold our dead

Sorrow is never off on holiday
Misery is not on leave of absence
We’ve exhausted all appeals
Grief works from home at all hours.

(2020)

The Assassins of November

(For Haitian patriots Drouin and Numa, executed publicly by Duvalier’s orders on Thursday, November 12, 1964.)

I remember childhood
I remember a far away time
before my heart fled south
When good intentions came to nothing
and promises were trampled with the dew
They came for you at dawn
dragged you through prison gates
after a shave, a wash, a change of clothes
I do not believe you cried
even when they strapped your shoulders
to the pole and the bullets
echoed in our eyes
swarmed in your chest
It was Thursday
School children with ribbons in their hair
would bear witness
until you signed your name
in the earth
with your bare feet
Cameras rattled off to steal your soul
but all they captured was your death
replayed for days on end
So those who were not in that narrow street
or on the balconies facing the cemetery
could hear your rising moan
and see your bodies slump
so still between the shade and light
You faced the firing squad
eyes opened wide
and died under the bright sky
Your blood
the color of the dress
they forced your sister to wear
to belie her grief
flowed and seeped into everything
and pain was everywhere

Let the crowd bleat
choking on its own shame
as it returns from the execution grounds
What stirs its body and spirit
is Fear
But you are fetterless Numa
and Drouin, your wandering is done
You’ve found another freedom.

(2013)

WaterSong

(Death by cholera: in 2010, the Minustah discharged human sewage in the Artibonite river and caused a cholera outbreak in Haïti—the first in more than a century. It killed at least 10,000 people and sickened hundreds of thousands and continues to spread in the country.)

Death seeps into my dreams
Water sweet poison
Changing color
Draining its dark stench
Bowel green
Rice water
Grey as the empty sky
As corpses I travel over
No Requiem

No Libera me domine
Corpses
Soaked and dissolved in water
Grey rice water bowel green
Seeping bleeding drenching flooding
Into this island of ceaseless wonders
Closed Open Closed
Open to the sea water
And the Artibonite river
I would like to float
Even in a paper boat
Away from these senseless sorrows
I carry
My back breaking
From the grievous load
Of life denied withheld
And death without ritual or funeral
Through much whispering and loneliness
Homesickness Lovesickness Watersickness
My island of endless distress
Bathed in shitwater no metaphor will do
Sometimes I am dazzled by your beauty
But you are a lump of sadness in my throat
It is grey outside
Dead grey sky
Wind flapping sheets
Spreading the smell of death
From a woman like me Unlike me
Soaking the dark dirt with water
Bowel green rice water grey
Until it reaches the bowels of the earth
Till relentlessly life comes to a standstill
Leaving her with sightless sunken eyes
And shriveled skin
My island of seven plagues and maladies
Holding me and my memories
In a slow swelling blister of waste oozing solid-liquid
My island of cyclical crises
I love you through the stench of death
As if devoid of the sense of smell
As others void bowel green water rice water grey
Soaking you in shitwater no metaphor will do
I weep over the empty sky.

(2010)

Promised Land

No
We were not worthy of this land
I swear on my life and on yours
Were we to beg forgiveness
On our knees
Seventy-seven times seventeen times
From our lady of Perpetual Mercy
History would not absolve us nor she

We bleat like goats
Tethered to this land
Where men can be bought for a song
Women for a trifle
And children long abandoned
Surrender their souls
The years of our lives have passed
Listening to the ticking of time
Dividing days into hours
Clinging to dreams
Diviners cannot decipher

We drink, make love and eat
Surrounded by excrement
Its stench, sticky green phlegm in our throat
We speak but our words carry no weight
Honor is obliterated and truth absent
The future aborted
And the past streams continuous
Like sewage flowing in the gutter

What blunders
What waste
What senseless losses
I could say more but why
You know the ending
And a poem is only words
Written in vain

O let the fire consume us
Erase the slate after we’ve gone
But do not absolve us
Do not forgive us our sins
For we knew exactly what we were doing
We should not be remembered any more than a dead dog
We are like rotten teeth
Falling
Falling
Falling.

(2012)

Formal Advisory

They’ve parceled out the port of Princes
Into rough places and corners
Without sky and without curtains
We may not go to the West
Nor the East
And have been formally advised
Against sailing to Tortuga
Where new pirates have raised their flags
Forget the Eternal city
Do not delve into Jealousy
Do not go towards the Sun
Or to where Bouquets of Crosses
Herald the way to a Brackish Pond
These imprudent ventures
Might place you in the midst of rival gangs
Justice removed her blindfold
And seeing where she was
Stole away dropping her scales
They crashed like metal pans
The street vendor uses them now
To deep fry pork in elbow grease
As dogs cross the plates of food
In vain we seek
The fundamental decencies of life
They’ve thrust wickedness upon us
And scattered us like broken glass.

(May 23, 2021)

—Michèle Voltaire Marcelin

Poem & Prose by Jacques Fleury

Mr. Robert Powers, Jacques Fleury’s English teacher.

An Ode to Mr. Powers

(My English Teacher from Boston English High School)

—Jacques Fleury

It is with great fervor and honor that I write about Mr. Powers, my favorite English teacher at the oldest public school in America, Boston English High School (est. 1821).

I remember the first time I met him with lapidary clarity. It was at the confluence of my experiences as a bilingual student and the ensuing culture clash having immigrated to America from Haiti. He was sitting down when I walked into his classroom. He looked up with a sort of wild eyed mystic, full of wisdom and truth and a rather refreshing informal disposition. The sun seeping from the glass window made his dirty blond hair shimmer, rendering it nearly golden. I came to proffer my candidacy as a writer for the EHS literary magazine IMPRESSIONS at the request of my journalism teacher & editor of the school newspaper Mrs. Haloran, if I remember her name correctly… After introductions, I handed him a sample of a story I had written. He snatched it with gusto and curiosity and began perusing it immediately.

I stood before him, my heart thudding as if with analogous intensity of a bird’s rapid heart rate. I thought that if THIS was how it felt to anticipate being judged for my writing, was I really ready!? Sure I had been judged for my journalism writings, but that was different, that was just an amalgamation of facts and academic forms. THIS, however, was my heart on a piece of paper, an esoteric construction of my imagination and my hitherto life observations and nascent wisdom. After he was done, he glanced up at me with a resolute smile and I just knew that he was going to let me have it! But then again, particularly back then as a mostly melancholy teen, I anticipated the worst in life. He said, “Are you serious about becoming a writer?” and I said, “Yes” without any hesitation. “Ok then, can I be totally honest with you? I shook my head “Yes”. “Some students break into tears on me, YOU won’t, will you?” And I shook my head “NO” without flinching. Then he sat me down, and red marked my story to death!

One word in particularly stayed in my mind until this day…he wrote “TRITE TRITE TRITE!!!” all over my work. Apparently, I was using an overabundance of what he considered to be banal language that permeated my script. He felt that I should make my works my own, and use words that “wake-up” the reader rather than subdue them with monotonous circumlocution or verbosity. I became genuinely intrigued by his wild-eyed earnest honesty, he was like a mad literary scientist, full of efficacious ideas and suggestions, and I couldn’t take notes fast enough.

After that encounter, we began working together regularly after school, he published my stories in IMPRESSIONS and we developed a mutual respect for each other. He selected me among a handful of students to represent English High along with the Boston Latin School in a two-week summer literary seminar at Andover Academy in Andover, Massachusetts; which culminated to the participants publishing a literary magazine and giving a public reading for faculty and family. The magazine had three titles: “IMPRESSIONS/No Repression of Expression/In Our Own Write”.

Then Mr. Powers bestowed upon me the highest honor any bilingual student had hitherto received, making me editor-in-chief of IMPRESSIONS. Because of his demonstrated belief in me, I became emboldened in my pursuit of a career in writing. After high school, I was on the editing staff of the literary magazine The Watermark at University of Massachusetts, Boston. I have since had and still have columns in a number of newspapers and magazines, my first book Sparks in the Dark was featured in the Boston Globe and I have published three books total, second one being a fiction collection titled It’s Always Sunrise Somewhere and Other Stories, the latest being Chain Letter To America: The One Thing You Can Do To End Racism, A Collection of Essays, Fiction and Poetry Celebrating Multiculturalism which is sold at the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Massachusetts and on Amazon. I have also been included in two anthologies, one of which from Cornell University Press.

I owe a generous debt of gratitude to Mr. Powers for his tough talking, disciplined & inspiring methods that helped propelled me to the literary and life success that I enjoy today. THANK YOU MR. POWERS, wherever you are…

Free!

Dock
we’ll dock stones
roll and
we’ll unroll
In my America
the big flying eagle
birds well done abroad.
Two groups of people
the rich and the poor
the young and the old
the white and the black
and three tons of fat
all in procession
silent tales are blooming
flowers growing shells
olive branches
climbing white house walls
two candles burning
shades of gray
I trust in god
holy bloody Sunday comes
Sunday morning
god bless those whose veins
bear none
twilight swallows the moon
darkness
descends
soldiers gone awol
run like panthers
here and gone
they’ve staged a snare
running rivers very dry mouths
Dutiful soldiers beat their drums
paragons of strength and honor
masquerade balls
dinky shoots smack and
the dumb blond flunks
fall down stand up
walk the line
walk backwards
juggling well
will set you free.

—Jacques Stanley Fleury

[Jacques Stanley Fleury, is a Haitian-American Poet, Educator and Boston Globe featured author of three books available at The Harvard Book Store, The Boston Public Library & online. He holds an undergraduate degree in Liberal Arts and pursuing graduate studies in the literary arts at Harvard University online. His hitherto magnum opus Chain Letter to America: The One Thing You Can Do to End Racism is an omnium gatherum of essays, fiction and poetry espousing social justice and embracing multiracial-multicultural identities & their respective contributions to our society. ]

Poem by Aidan Rooney

Rotten Spell

(From the Haitian Kreyòl of Doumafis Lafontan’s “On Tan Pouri”)

Love, for want of show and tell,
checks in at the Hell Hotel
that logs among its clientele
couples in a cold spell,
polite, aggressive personnel,
a gallery that bade farewell,
spouses, woke, on eggshell,
parents on their carousel,
kids in some remote stairwell—
the world, in a nut-shell,
largely unsalvageable.
Pro and anti-maskers yell,
shuttered stores up and sell,
Wall Street’s virtual cartel
deafens past its closing bell
the doink of an oil barrel,
rice-filled (bless you, Bill),
deep-dipped in the inkwell
of trade and aid’s high-decibel
swagger of imperial,
hell-bent goodwill,
all out to quell what ill?
No-show, just kiss and tell,
when France’s little Jezebel,
ostentatious infidel—
Haiti, fêtes its bicentennial,
the sheep-wolves at Hotel Hell
lobbying for acquittal.
Sounds swell. Pell-mell.
Bring, so, your blue bowl
to ask of Lari, mademoiselle,
to dispel this rotten spell
of raging, plot-lost, pitted people
bent on bending arcs from equal.

Artistic feet of Julie Moreno Rehder. —photo by Tequila Minsky, 2020.

—Aidan Rooney

Poem by Marie-Ange Claude

(Translated from French by Elizabeth Brunazzi)

Mutilations

The streets are sad
They have their tongue cut out
So much blood inundates the day-to-day

Haïti my love
Under our palaces lies a bitter taste
The odor of blood stays in our nostrils

From morning to evening we live in anguish
We no longer know which street to take
To escape death
Who stalks the city stark naked
The bitterness imprinted on our hair, on our souls
Our steps no longer know on which foot to dance

Tomorrow will perhaps be filled with the noise of bullets
With the fumes of burning rubber, graffiti, blood
On the walls and the sidewalks

A great lump of sorrow rolls in my throat

Tomorrow we will raise our voices to say
That death must cease to circulate freely
That we wish no more of the odor of fresh corpses
Stacked like sheaves of roses on every street corner.

—Marie-Ange Claude English translation, Elizabeth Brunazzi, 2020.

Poems by Doumafis Lafontan

I hope

I am that sinner who repented his sin.
Among those who received the word:
Some fell by the way side,
Some fell upon a rock,
Some fell among thorns,
I stand on good ground.
An honest and good heart,
Having heard the word,
I kept it.
With patience I persevered,
Built character.
I hope that,
Being a Ginen,
One of the nanchon,
I am that I am.
O! Generation of Africans
Bring forth comfort.
Kankayame out of air and water
Raised up children to Osagyefo,

A brief history of the Black Republic

I seek the genie of poetic liberation,
A language to explain the principle of living,
Link to our real existence on the far-away continent.

I seek a whole vocabulary,
A syntax that shares out the actor,
The act in the praxis
Tilted on the side of the absolute majority.

Everyone knows the story of Black Folk in San Domingo:
They broke the chain of tyranny,
Beat the backside of colonists,
Slave traders,
Burned plantations,
Factories,
Rebuilt the kingdoms of Ayiti,
Put an abrupt end to crimes,
Dispelled the lies against humanity.

I am telling the History of the Black Nation:
Different realities of Folk,
Chemès Arawaks, Karib, Tayino;
European Spanish, French, English;
Afrikan Arada, Ibo, Kongo, Bambara, Mandeng,
Haitians in effect share out and
Interconnected Nan Ginen (mythological Afrika)
For life to continue.

Everyone knows the story of Haitian Folk,
They swore union makes might,
Formed an Assembly to separate power.
Alexandre Petion cheated,
A quarrel ensued,
Fighting broke out.

I ask why are two brothers making such public spectacles?
They told me since the day they assassinated Emperor Jean Jacques I,
Each one has been tearing apart the other.
No one has been able to bring peace,
And stop them from fighting.

I approach closer.
The two brothers told me:
Three friends of Haiti came between us,
Teaching the balance of power,
They insisted there must be an opposition.
Indeed, the first brother says power to the most popular
While the second thinks the most able should hold power.

Listen you are indeterminate.
But indeterminacy depends on what happens:
In the North forced labor;
In the West laisser faire,
Idleness,
Vagabonds
Coups d’état,
Dictatorship,
Puppet presidents,
Republic of dry bones.
These Republicans pillaged the coffee production
To pay the double-debt.

Again you both err fighting for that which you won.
Remember you adopted politics,
A struggle for power, in the 3rd Year of the Independence.
Now go the two of you to your popular culture,
Gather the genie of your common aspiration
That which denies the idea of politics.

Surely you will fall
In your own realm.
Thus you will regain your equilibrium.
Like the celestial bodies,
Each in its own sphere circles our star
In an uninterrupted process.

[Excerpted from the bilingual (Haitian-English) collection of poems Krik! Krak! Dèyè mòn gen mòn / Mountains Behind Mountains, ed. Trilingual Press, 2012.]

Poems by Gary Daniel

(Bilingual Poetrygoal—in Haitian and English)

Bawon (3-4-3)

ancestors’ last refuge
others dare us touching
their souls’ missing

Respect (3-4-3)

overturned beggar’s bowl
suddenly buried straight hunger
whitens life’s darkness

Disgust (2-3-3-2)

gall burst
jarring undesirable taste
mixed delicately meat
narrow palette

Friendship (3-4-3)

injured player laid
on pitch without ball
referee calls doctor

Forwards (3-4-3)

play hard game
avoid dribble pass kick
softball shreds net

Lovemaking (4-2-4)

harmony security sexual marriage,
life celebration;
insurance today hope discovered

Score (4-3-3)

wet rolling finger deep
seesawing in sweet
ease cutting hardwood

Soup (3-4-3)

good yellow squash
veggy carrot turnip meat
full bowl… hungrier

Pride (3-3-4)

head up straight
high conceit chest
on caporal steps forward

[Excerpted from the bilingual (Haitian-English) collection of poems Foutbòl lavi 2 a 1 / Life Soccer 2 to 1, to be released by Trilingual Press in June 2021.]

Fresh Pond after the rain, Cambridge, MA. —photo by Jill Netchinsky.

Home Page • Table of Contents • Send your writings and your letters to: Editors@tanbou.com